Domestic violence is an ongoing concern in the U.S., as roughly one-million individuals are arrested on these charges each year. Among those arrested, approximately 33% result in a conviction. Many of these allegations made for acts of domestic violence are false and can have devastating consequences for those accused. Those who are facing allegations of domestic violence are strongly encouraged to confer with an attorney that is well-versed in this area of legal practice.
Understanding Domestic Violence
Pennsylvania's provisions explain that domestic violence occurs among “family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood.” Many different acts may constitute domestic violence including:
- Acts committed with intent or recklessly that result in bodily harm, severe bodily injury, rape, forced intercourse, or sexual assault that may or may not involve a lethal weapon
- The abuser may create a fearful atmosphere that poses a threat of bodily harm, such as stalking an individual
- It may be demonstrated through false imprisonment
- May include physical or sexually-oriented abuse of minor children
Charges of Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania
The criminal laws do not have a specific “domestic violence” charge, rather these cases are brought as either a misdemeanor or felony offenses that relate to violence. Some of the common offenses that apply to these cases are simple or aggravated assault, stalking, recklessly endangering, strangulation, and more.
Motivation for Making False Accusations
False allegations may be made as a means of revenge following an angry dispute. They often involve couples that are entering a separation or divorce, and may be viewed as a means of gaining leverage in divorce proceedings or result from strong feelings of jealousy. The accuser may be seeking to obtain benefits such as court-imposed financial support as part of a protection order, and many others.
Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA)
When charges of domestic violence are received in Pennsylvania, the court will often implement a PFA, which is also commonly referred to as a “restraining order” or “no-contact order” in other jurisdictions. Initially, the court will establish a temporary protection order that is implemented as an interim measure following an often-informal hearing. Once a judge signs the order, members of a local agency of law enforcement will present (serve) the accused with a written copy of the documents.
What Provisions May Apply to a PFA?
A PFA is intended to protect the alleged victim(s) from any further potential abuse, threats, or harassment. A PFA may prohibit the accused from being in proximity to the alleged victim and children. It may also prohibit visiting the alleged victim's residence, workplace, and school. It will also typically restrict any forms of contact or communication over the phone, by text message, etc.
The court may also implement additional interim measures for the benefit of the alleged victim. Examples may include temporary orders to provide financial compensation to the alleged victim and/or children. The subject of a PFA may also be required to relinquish any firearms or weapons.
PFA Weapon Restrictions
Those subject to a PFA will generally be required to give any weapons in their possession to an agency of law enforcement or a licensed attorney. Further, the individual is prohibited from acquiring or otherwise possessing another weapon. Those who fail to abide by the order may be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor offense.
Best Practices When Facing Allegations
There are several things that someone accused should do, some of which may assist your attorney. It is critical that an already difficult situation is not made worse.
Identify Potential Witnesses
Sometimes there will be witnesses to incidents that have taken place. These could be neighbors, relatives, friends, or others that may provide an objective account of what occurred.
Gather Relevant Evidence
Collect any related evidence when possible, such as any documented communications. Often there may be dialogue from text messages, voice message, e-mails, or written forms of documentation from your accuser. If you received any medical treatment, these records should be retained along with photographs of injuries incurred. Do not post comments or discuss the case on social media.
Adhere to Protection Order Rules
Always abide by any court orders, as failing to do so can have substantial legal ramifications. Do not contact your accuser directly or through any third-parties outside of your attorney. If there is any unavoidable contact with the accuser, always be sure that there is a witness present.
Collateral Consequences of False Allegations of Domestic Violence
There are a host of potentially harmful ramifications that can occur to those falsely accused. The individual may be arrested, detained in jail, and could miss work. Those accused of domestic violence often encounter a stigma that damages their reputation. In today's interconnected digital environment, information of the arrest may surface on the internet.
Many of those facing allegations are surprised how rumors and misinformation can circulate by word-of-mouth and social media. The employer of the accused individual may become aware of the situation, which could negatively impact your employment. Based on the nature of the accusations, family members may “take sides” or distance themselves. The individual may have reduced interaction with minor children or potentially be subject to “supervised” visitation that is awkward and uncomfortable.
Ways to Defend Against False Allegations
Your defense lawyer may employ a variety of potential strategies to counter false allegations of domestic violence such as:
- Using character references to attest that you are not a violent individual
- Present evidence showing you are a good parent with an existing relationship with the children (when applicable)
- Presenting evidence that suggests the motive or intent of the accuser
- Challenging the credibility of the accuser or establishing that they have a mental health concern
Importance of Promptly Retaining a Seasoned Defense Lawyer in Cases of Domestic Violence
Defendants in domestic violence cases may face criminal penalties, damage to family relationships, serious financial problems, and more. These matters are often complex with protection orders, child custody concerns, and other legal disputes. A knowledgeable defense attorney will act according to your best interests, challenge the credibility of the accuser, employ tactics that may significantly reduce the severity of the charges, and others.
Defense Attorney Represents Clients in Domestic Violence Cases
The Pennsylvania courts take allegations of domestic violence very seriously. In some cases, overburdened court officials may rush to judgment without regard for the due process rights of the accused. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has spent many years aggressively representing clients in these matters and will ensure your rights are protected and formulate an effective strategy of defense. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686.